Friday, November 6, 2020
Hollywood couldn’t probably write a better cliff hanger than this current election saga — with people seemingly counting every single ballot in the current US election by hand. One… two… three… four… A slow drip of information is currently permeating through the media as the world watches with bated breath. While it’s super easy for me to get sucked into the 24 hour news cycle vortex, I’m trying today to take a break from it all to write, create, and focus on what really matters in my life and world. By the time this reaches you it’s likely there will be more definitive answers, at least to the math of it all.
In recent months I’ve embraced the practice of making daily intentions each morning. They come to me rather quickly, even as I’m wiping the crusty sleep from my eyes, and I trust the instinct. They make up a few words — as simple as “just make it through the day” — that help me focus on something positive for the waking hours ahead of me.
Today my unwavering intention was “celebrate the small details, the little things.” While part of my mind wanted an intention themed around the giant iPad on network television, with blazing hues of red and blue amongst dramatic horns screaming and ticker tape banners spewing “breaking news” every few minutes, deeper parts of me welcomed a different message — a helpful mantra that would direct attention to my own energy in bite-sized portions.
Travel teaches us to concentrate on what is controllable and work as hard as possible to let the other stuff go. That’s much easier said than done while waiting in a two-hour long immigration line at Rome Fiumicino airport, for instance. But so much about travel takes trust, and acknowledging the thoughts and feelings along the way. And amongst the potential stress of it all, I work hard to keep mindful of the little details — the learnings, the connections — that aggregate to provide the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of any journey.
A journey that remains deeply embedded in my heart took place in China in 2000 in the massively populated province of Sichuan (population 220 million at the time.) I was visiting family members (Anne Marie and Miguel) who were teaching English in a school near sprawling Chengdu. The budding country was only freshly embracing capitalism and this area felt years behind more modern Beijing or Shanghai. We didn’t really have a way to communicate with the food vendors, so in many cases they’d show us bubbling pots on the stove and we’d select the meal.
It was part of our plan to visit Mount Qingcheng (pronounced Ching Chen), known as the birthplace of Taoism. As I understand it, Taoism is the practice of being at one with the unplanned rhythms of the universe known as “The Way.” This sacred site was 70 miles away from us, and we embarked in the early hours of the morning with an intention to follow “The Way,” expecting to make it there and back in the same day. Little did we know how much we’d be tested to embrace “The Way.”
Transportation in 2000 Sichuan embodied a chaotic mix of thousands of bicycles with oxen-powered carts, motorbikes, old diesel trucks belching fumes, and Range Rovers. All this activity flowed in the roadways amongst vendors selling street food and pedestrians making a run for it across the busy avenues. New expressways were being built but the busses and taxis seemed to prefer the slower, pothole-filled roads to avoid tolls. Anne Marie and Miguel knew a rudimentary amount of Chinese that proved helpful in order to navigate the complicated network of busses in a city of 20 million people — and nothing seemed to flow in a linear fashion.
After visiting the National Panda Research Center and hanging with the adorable bears playing and eating bamboo, we pushed onward to find a ride to Mount Qingcheng. The bus station was immense and I procured some Pringles and Oreos for the ride, which was a small win in a vibrant environment with unfamiliar food, alphabet and language. Frustratingly, all the bus drivers told us they were going to the mountain, presumably to get our business, and we finally settled on one that seemed to be departing soon. I wasn’t paying attention and hit my head on the roof of the bus when boarding, and the occupants on the full vehicle burst into laughter. Although my head hurt I oddly felt more connected to the busload of locals and smiled back. They all wanted to shake our hands as we walked down the aisle to the back seats, which had easier options to wedge into the tiny rows.
The bus started and stopped, sometimes only twenty feet apart, working to negotiate additional passengers to board from the side of the expressway. The time consuming venture felt tedious, especially with fifty miles to go. We noticed another bus on our same path seemed to have less interest in all the stops and it was already refueling when we pulled into the roadside petrol station. As the driver of the new bus was preparing to pull out of the station Anne Marie suggested we switch.
Looking back on it now, I can celebrate the fact that we learned really quickly about “The Way” and what happens when trying to fight against it. Our new, enthusiastic ride made it about a mile down the expressway before a tire blew out, as we ate the dust and diesel fumes of our original bus racing on by. The Pringles proved helpful on the side of the road in the hot, dusty sun — amongst a cacophony of honking horns, revving engines and the bus employees arguing loudly in their local language.
Eventually the rickety chariot made it to the entrance to the park in time to start a hike at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The path involved thousands of wooden steps up and down the spine of the mountain and the landscape of the mystical, misty hills felt welcoming. Along the way, we stopped at a tiny village hugging the side of the mountain and the elders made us some tea and invited me to play Mahjong with them. Towards the end of the game, although I didn’t know what they were saying, they were clearly bypassing the rules and I yelled out, “You’re cheating!” — eliciting a roar of laughter from the whole crowd. This was another small detail, a gift to me — connection despite language barriers to universal human nature and understanding.
A mountainside Taoist convent took us in for the night when we found ourselves still hiking in the dark — miles away from the finish. They offered tired and hungry Americans a place to sleep and food from their kitchen for a very modest price of $5 per person. This experience was the closest I’ve ever had to sleeping in the hay — like a 19th century oil painting — but we appreciated the shelter.
This journey to Mount Qingcheng provided me with a great teaching that I’ve held with me every day since then. Celebrate the small details — the little things — and be open to “The Way.” It can be very difficult in American society to let go and pay attention to the things we can control, like the attitude about any given situation, but the feeling of peace that accompanies the release of control can be very rewarding.
So today, I’m going to find small details to appreciate, which is entirely within my grasp. I might even eat a can of Pringles for old time’s sake. By the time you see this perhaps some answers with the current outlook will be provided. Until then, I hope you can find your own way to create intentions, celebrate the little things, and follow “The Way.”
Visit other recent Blog Posts
Bloedel Preserve — easy to celebrate the little things
It’s especially easy to celebrate the little details at the magnificent Bloedel Preserve, on nearby Bainbridge Island. Click HERE or on the photo below in order to enjoy a photo essay about a recent visit.